PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins view their trip to the White House on Tuesday as the final moment of celebration for a championship season, not some sort of statement about where they stand on President Donald Trump.
“From my side of things, there’s absolutely no politics involved,” Crosby said Monday. “Hopefully it stays that way. It’s a visit we’ve done in the past. It’s been a good experience. It’s not about politics, that’s for sure.”
At least, it hasn’t been. Yet the Penguins have found themselves unwittingly thrust into the increasingly uncomfortable intersection of politics and sports. Trump has taken aim at NFL players who protest during the national anthem, saying they should be fired. Trump also rescinded a White House invitation to Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry after the two-time MVP expressed reservations about going.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan he expects full attendance by his team for the brief ceremony, one the Penguins will make for a second straight year after becoming the first team in nearly two decades to win consecutive Stanley Cups. The Penguins are trying to focus on the reason they’ve been asked to stop by and nothing more.
“I think to have the opportunity to go to the White House obviously means that you’ve won a championship and that means a lot,” Sullivan said. “What our team has been able to accomplish in the last two seasons our team is extremely proud of.”
Still, it has put the Penguins into an uncomfortable position while representing a league that rarely, if ever, ventures into the political realm.
“I can’t speak for everyone else, I just grew up under the assumption that that wasn’t something really bred into sports (and) different things,” said Crosby, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada. “Everyone’s got their own view. That’s how I kind of grew up playing hockey. I wasn’t surrounded by that or didn’t have any examples, so I kind of understood it and stayed out of it.”
The 49-year-old Sullivan pointed out he’s been asked more about politics in the last three weeks than he has over the course of his entire hockey life — including a 12-year career as an NHL player and another decade-plus as a coach — combined.
“It’s not something that gets discussed at the rink,” Sullivan said.
Forward Phil Kessel, an American, acknowledged the outside forces at play but like his teammates is steering clear of venturing into an area that often doesn’t collide with hockey.
“Obviously there’s been issues but I’m not that political,” he said. “Most teams go and it is what it is.”